While Hillsborough County has some work to do cleaning up its housing department, commissioners should not confuse that mess with an offer before them on Tuesday to build affordable housing.
Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, a 25-year-old business group promoting the office community near Tampa International Airport, will ask commissioners to take another step toward creating a 57-unit townhome development for working people with modest incomes. Thanks to support from the city of Tampa, the county, the state and area businesses, Rotella's group has acquired an old landfill in the Westshore area, created a nonprofit and is ready to build a community of affordable homes.
Commissioners will be asked to approve what's essentially a federally subsidized loan for environmental cleanup. When the land is ready, the nonprofit will build and sell the homes. Buyers must fall within a "workforce" income limit — qualifying either as "low income" or earning less than $56,000 for a family of four. The property will be held in a trust to prevent speculative flipping and the annual appreciation in property value will be capped. A series of tax breaks and homeowners' assistance measures also will help to place dozens of working families into their first homes.
The arrangement could be a model for future public-private ventures, and in the Westshore area it would help place employees closer to jobs. The hotels, office parks, restaurants and shops in Westshore employ nearly 100,000 people. While these 57 townhomes would be a blip, it is a start in bringing residential sites to the business district, which stokes the climate for expanded bus transit and rail. Here's where the cycle takes off: Cutting a person's transportation expenses can increase household income by up to 25 percent, which means more people can afford to buy homes and build their net worth.
Rotella's plan is worth pursuing. At the very least, commissioners should distinguish between what he is doing and the separate challenge ahead in strengthening the county's housing program.